Category Archives: Inspiration


That one time we climbed to the top of Kilimanjaro

It’s been couple weeks since the last chapter of the Above the Clouds series was released at Rockford First Church.  I feel extremely blessed to have been involved with it.  The project was a beast!  From training to prep, to shooting on a Mountain to creating a story to deliver after the climb has come and gone.  It was probably one of the hardest projects I’ve been apart of but I would totally do it all over again.  We decided to shoot this like a documentary, and there was definitely a learning curve, so here are a few lessons I learned while directing a documentary on a mountain:

1.  Train.

If you’re planning on taking a trip up a mountain, some sort of hiking trip, or anything that’s going to be long days of moving, it really helps to be in shape!  It’s one thing to be able to do the task and a whole other thing to do the task AND film at the same time.  Training before we left was HUGE for us.  I couldn’t imagine trying to climb a mountain and document any content with any energy I had left if I hadn’t trained before hand.

2.  Travel As Light As Possible.

As a director, I wanted to make sure we were going to capture everything and have it look the best.  So I was a little over zealous with gear I thought we needed.  We brought tripods, monopods, extra lenses, lots of extra batteries and even extra cameras.  We were going to be on a mountain for 6 days, so I wanted to be prepared for anything.  I even almost brought a Movi and a slider!  It’s good to be prepared, but if you can simplify it without getting rid of quality, it will seriously help you out.  We started with all that gear on day one, and then ended up putting away mostly everything except 1 camera, 1 lens and an extra battery.  We realized a day in that we can get most of everything shooting hand held.  And was really happy with the end result.

3.  Pain is Temporary, Story is Forever.

Most projects that I’ve been apart of I’ve planned out everything.  How it’s going to feel, the shots I’m going to get and what the end result will be.  With this, we wanted to film everything and see what story would come out of it.  We didn’t want to force the end result of the documentary to give room for any stories that might come up.  This meant we needed to shoot everything.  And filming while hiking a mountain was tough!  It was easy to feel lazy after each day after long hours of hiking and climbing, and in those times, be missing something that we should be capturing.  It was a struggle to get out of our warm tent to capture the mountain in the moonlight or to set up a time-lapse of clouds rolling in because we were totally whooped from the day.  But if you can persevere the pain and discomfort, it’s totally worth it!


Shooting time-lapses above the clouds at Karanga Camp. Photo Cred: Matt Sandberg

4.  Bring a Photographer.

I’m not a great photographer but luckily we had one with us!  There were two of us shooting video.  Myself and another named Matt as well.  He loves making great films and also loves shooting photography as well.  I knew he was going to get great pics, but I didn’t realize how important that can be to help tell the story after we got down from the mountain.  You can check out some more of his awesome photography HERE.

5.  Hit While the Iron is Hot.

We climbed Kilimanjaro in the end of September but the series didn’t launch until end of February.  Right when we got back, I had some pretty big projects due right away but this was a real crucial time to log any content so we didn’t forget anything later on.  We pulled a meeting with everyone involved with the climb, brought an audio recorder and just brain dumped day by day what we experienced.  It took a few hours, but was extremely helpful when it came time to structure our story.

Rough story outline before the edit

Rough story outline before the edit

6.  Enjoy the Moments.

One movie that has become a recent favorite of mine is “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”  There’s a scene where Ben Stiller’s character, Walter Mitty, is looking for a photographer named Sean O’Connell, played by Sean Penn, to get a negative gone missing.  When Walter finally finds Sean, it’s in the mountains where Sean is trying to capture a ‘Ghost Cat’ (snow leopard) on camera.  There’s a moment where a snow leopard appears in frame, but Sean never takes the picture.  When asked why he didn’t, his response was, “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”  I thought, “That is awesome!”  I wouldn’t agree to the ‘T’ on the this, I mean, if there’s something amazing in front of me, I’m going to capture it!  But after I do, I learned how great it was to just pause and soak in what I’m experiencing.


It’s a huge blessing to be able to do what I love day in and day out.  Especially being able to create with really good friends.  Climbing Kilimanjaro and filming this project was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.  So here’s to completing the ‘Above The Clouds’ series and to the next big project on the horizon!

Also, if you want binge watch the series, you can check them out below or visit

Chapter 01 • Fundamentals

Chapter 02 • Polé Polé

Chapter 03 • The Grade

Chapter 04 • Pioneer

When I was a freshman in High School I was tricked by my history teacher.  Here’s what happened…I came into class with the rest of the students and before I sat down and settled in, the teacher handed me a book and asked me to drop it off to the principal.  Not thinking anything of it, I took the book to the school’s Main Office.  When I came back to the classroom, the teacher was in the middle of a question.  He was pointing at a couple lines he drew on the chalk board that looked a little like this:


He asked, “Which of you think this line is the same length as this line?”


Only a couple people raised their hands.  I was confused.  The lines looked to be identical.  I came back to the classroom in the middle of the question and it seemed the majority knew something I didn’t.

Then, pointing to two different lines, the teacher asked, “Who thinks these lines are the same length?”


The majority of the class raised their hands.  So… I did too.  Immediately the teacher called me out.  “Matt, why did you raise your hand?  Do you honestly believe these two lines are the same length?”

“Well, no… I-I don’t know.” I stammered.

“Why did you raise your hand?” He asked again.

I was caught.  Embarrassed, I tried to explain that I didn’t know what was happening.  I came back from the principal’s office in the middle of the question and the majority answered the question so… I just followed suit.  I didn’t want to stand out and be wrong.

My history teacher was illustrating a point about how people can be influenced to follow the majority and paralleled that to Nazi Germany.  It was a good lesson for the class, but a life changing lesson for me.  For years after that, it bothered me that he chose me.  Why did he choose me?  Did he know that I would follow the crowd?  It irritated me that I didn’t answer what I thought was true.

I still think of that lesson from time to time.  It still bothers me to this day, but I’m so glad that he chose me.  It built something new in me.  Conviction.  At least, an awareness of opportunity to stick with conviction.  By not following the crowd mindlessly from the start, I can decide where I stand in any given situation.  It’s important to question things.  It’s important to not assume the crowd is always right.  You can’t develop any kind of true conviction without questioning the status quo.  And the point is not to question just for the sake to question.  It can’t come from a rebellious place.  If you question things with the right heart, not out of anger or frustration but with the constraints of what’s right or wrong, then the question will position yourself to discover who you actually are and what direction you need to go.

Let me just take a moment right now and embarrass myself.  With baggy pants, long hair, bandannas, Linkin Park, hacky sack and thinking we’re cool, I humbly present to you the very first video I’ve ever made:

First, let me just say that I used this video to work my way into the creative department at Rockford First Church.  Crazy, right!?  This was an announcement video made way back in 2005 for my hometown youth group in Cold Spring, MN.  I watched over the shoulder of a youth leader of mine edit a video using Final Cut and the spark began from there.  I convinced them to let me borrow their camera, I believe it was a Canon GL1, back in the DV Tape days.  And there lays the master piece before you.

We all have to start somewhere.  I often hear creatives complain about not being happy about the projects they currently are working on.  “If only I can be apart of that shoot.” “Apart of that project”  “If I had this camera,”  “If I had this gear,” “If I lived here,” “If leadership would let me do blah blah blah”  Thing is, those examples might be somewhat true.  Yes, it would be awesome if you had those things, but that’s the wrong attitude to create by.  If you saw what I saw, when re-watching that youth group announcement video, then you would agree with me that I wasn’t hired purely based on my talent.  There’s a difference from being an emotional artist to being a creative professional.  BE A TEAM PLAYER!  Now, I’m just guessing here, because no one really told me, but I think I was hired to be on the team because of a few things; I took initiative in learning something new, trying something different, I expressed passion for the over arching end goal and was honest that I may not have any idea how to do something but would do everything in my power to make it happen.  Fulfilling the goal and being apart of the team was more important to me than showing off what I could do.  And luckily, someone saw that potential and took a chance on me

If you’re going to be a creative in a professional world, if you’re a designer, an animator, a writer, cinematographer, editor, whatever, fill in the blank, you have to give up yourself.  Your art is not your own.  Pour everything you have into it, but it’s not who you are.  You were gifted to give it away.  So whatever stage you find yourself, whether at the beginning of your creative career or you’ve been crushing it for years, give your art away.

I’ve been truly blessed be apart of the Rockford First team since 2008 and in between now and then there had to have been some growth.  So let me close with some shots of some projects I had the opportunity to work on in the last couple years:

Special shout out to Kyle Curran, Kurt Peterson, Maddie Eickhoff for letting me post this without your permission.

In September 2015, I had the amazing opportunity to work on a creative film project for Rockford Fist Church that took climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.  I’ve climbed a few larger mountains in Colorado that were “Fourteeners” (mountains with a summit elevation of 14,000 feet or greater) but Kilimanjaro was a different beast!  This was bucket-list material!  Mt. Kilimanjaro is the worlds tallest free standing mountain, towering at 19,341 feet above sea level, and I was stoked for it!  Should be a walk in the park, right?  You know… with all the practice we get climbing mountains in the Midwest.

There were four of us on the team that would ultimately be trying to make it to the top.  Jeremy DeWeerdt, the lead pastor at Rockford First.  Taka Iguchi, who helped organize a lot of the trip details, and then Matt Sandberg and myself as the cameramen for the trip.

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Rockford First annually creates two creative teaching series for the small groups that we have in our church that are called “life group series”.  I have been blessed to be a part of every teaching series that Rockford First has created since the beginning dating back to 2007.  For this series, we decided to do it a little differently and film it like a documentary.  We didn’t want to force anything, we wanted to see what we, as the crew, would experience personally on the mountain and bring those lessons to the life groups at Rockford First.  This meant we had to film almost everything.  Which was much more work than past series, however, what we were able to capture was totally worth it.

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Each team member had our “big thing” that we learned on the mountain and those lessons are illustrated in the four week series starting this February 28th.  I’ve always felt closest to God when I’m in the element of His creation.  There’s just something about being in the Mountains.  Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  Way harder than I would like to admit.  I just couldn’t get use to the thin mountain air.  There where times when I was leaning against my trekking poles swaying back and forth trying not to pass out.  In those moments one thing kept coming to mind, “I am bigger than this mountain.”  I was determined to get to the top.  I had a job to do, but at the same time, I was also on a very personal journey.  Part of that journey was coming to the realization that “I am more capable than I know.”   If I could conquer this physical mountain how much easier mentally for me it is to conquer the smaller “mountains” in my life.  Everyone has mountains in there life and climbing Kili inspired me to conquer mine back home.

For those who don’t know my wife and I’s story, starting a family has been difficult for us.  We have had three miscarriages and that had led us down this path to adopt.  A little over a month before our trip , we had been selected by a birth mother for an adoption placement, needless to say we were thrilled (aka freaking out excited!!) … the nursery was ready, the house was baby proofed and we were ready for our son to come home.  We finally received the call that she was going into labor and we made our way to the hospital with the anticipation of leaving with the child we had been waiting and praying for in our arms… We left that night instead with empty arms and a heavy heart.   The journey has been a roller coaster to say the least, and honestly, at that point we had wanted to throw in the towel and quit. So climbing Kilimanjaro had taken on a much more personal journey for me in regards to struggle. It was hard, but the biggest lesson I had taken away from our filming adventure is that we are bigger than the struggles we have in our life and we are more capable than we know, because God is with us.   So we’ve decided to stay the course and are excited about it!  In fact you can even check out our adoption profile HERE.

The point is this… You’re more capable than you know.  What are the mountains in your life that  you think are too big for you?  What is something you need to step into that feels uncomfortable, scary or too hard?  It’s easier to just leave sleeping dogs lay, but there’s something powerful with moving past struggle.  In order to grow in anything that’s worth while you have to go through some conflict.

This was the biggest lesson I learned on the mountain, and everyone had a different moment or lesson that they learned.   I’m excited to bring that experience to the life groups at Rockford First through this series.   This video series is going to be unlike any we’ve done so far. The footage is amazing, the lessons are life changing and the scenery on the side of that mountain was unlike any I’ve ever seen.  The four part series, “Above the Clouds” premieres February 28 at Rockford First.  And if you’re in the Rockford, IL area, you’re not gonna wanna miss getting involved!  If you’re unable to make it, check out the series online at

Stay tuned for more posts about the trip.  I’ll dive in more after the series as started.

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Photo Cred: Matt Sandberg
Check out more of his awesome pics from the trip HERE.